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Monday, July 28, 2014

Editing with the Elrics: Sacrificing What You Want Most

So I've been discussing some lessons I learned from Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. Here is another plotting tool/technique/method that hit me right in the gut--if done right, it can be really powerful emotionally for your audience. But this post does contain a spoiler, so if you plan on actually watching or reading Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, you'll want to finish it before you read this.

Alright, so I mentioned last Monday that one of the main characters, Alphonse, doesn't have a body. The laws of alchemy require equivalent exchange--you give something to gain something. One of the things Al gave up accidentally during an alchemical transaction was his own body. Ed is missing an arm and a leg. The protagonists' goals for the whole story is to get their bodies back to normal. It's a quest they've been on for years. It's a quest we go on with them for over 60 episodes. They scour the field of alchemy to find a way to do it.

At the climax of the series, Al finally has opportunity to get his real body back. You know he's hungered for this moment for ages--as an audience, we've hungered for it on his behalf. This is what he has wanted more than anything, what he's been trying to accomplish for most his life. But at that moment, Al's friends are in battle with the main antagonist, one that the fate of the whole country rests on. Al realizes that if he gets his real flesh and blood body back, he won't be able to fight--his body will be too weak and vulnerable. It's too human. It's atrophied. And the others needs his help--his armor-body help, right now.

So he foregoes the opportunity to get his real body back. He sacrifices what he most wanted. That moment hit me. It was so powerful because, as I mentioned before, the audience had spent 60 episodes looking toward this instance. The writer had built up to it. But we aren't disappointed in Al's decision because it reveals just how vast the magnitude of his selflessness is.

We can use that technique in our own stories, and hit our readers right in the guts. What if, when your character finally had the opportunity to get exactly what she most wanted, she had to sacrifice it?

In order to make it most powerful, your character has to really hunger for it, and for a long time, and we have to see that hunger. The longer we see him hunger and the hungrier he is and the harder he strives for his goal, the more powerful the moment of sacrifice.


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